President Obama's connection to Rev. Wright was toxic in 2008. A look at why, four years later, it's not such a big deal anymore
Whatever you think of a recently floated conservative plan to attack President Obama hard over his former pastor, Rev. Jeremiah Wright — Mitt Romney's camp, for one, doesn't think much of it — there is a strain of thought in Republican circles that if Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) had only hit Obama harder on his ties to the controversial Wright and other acquaintances in the 2008 race, he would be President McCain today. Judging by the Republican rush to quash billionaire Joe Ricketts' plan, we won't get to test that theory just yet. Here are five reasons playing the Wright card in 2012 might not be a political winner for the GOP:
1. Wright is old news
"There's little question that Obama's connection to Wright proved decidedly problematic for the then–Illinois Senator during the 2008 campaign," says Chris Cillizza at The Washington Post. But bringing him up now would just "cast Romney as re-litigating the fights of the past." Plus, it's not like the media ignored Wright in 2008, says Josh Marshall at Talking Points Memo. "Everybody heard about Jeremiah Wright. Everybody found out the president is black. It didn't turn the public against Obama" four years ago, "and it's far less likely to today."
2. Hammering Obama on the issue would turn off swing voters
Leading Republicans know that playing "as crass an exercise in race-baiting" as the Wright card to the general electorate would backfire. A Wright ad would "probably be perceived as a low blow by swing voters," former Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.) tells The Washington Post. "And it is all about swing voters." Besides, people who think the Wright issue is a big deal — and that includes "large swaths of the GOP base, and even of the conservative commentariat" — are already going to vote for Romney, says Greg Sargent at The Washington Post.
3. The claims don't fit with the Obama we know
After three-plus years in office, people have decided what they think about Obama. The Wright attack in particular is "ridiculous" because we've learned Obama really "isn't much of a churchgoer," says Joe Klein at TIME. He probably didn't hear some of Wright's more incendiary sermons. More importantly, Obama's clearly shown he's not an America-hating "black militant" or secret Muslim, but "an American patriot who has waged a highly successful war against this nation's terrorist enemies, especially al Qaeda."
4. There are better ways to send the same message
This particular attack plan was flawed, but Republicans shouldn't take Wright off the table, says Paul Mirengoff at Power Line. Romney should explore "any honest line of attack that makes voters like Obama less," and he can make "the Obama-Wright connection... toxic if it can be tied to policy." Not to worry, says William Saletan at Slate. If Romney won't touch Wright, some "rogue, richly funded right-wing campaign" will come out with another way to channel the Right's boiling-over rage at Obama. Watch for less "politically insane" attacks trying to paint Obama as un-American, anti-Christian, and racist.
5. The element of surprise is gone
We'll never really know if this Wright attack would've worked, since it was previewed in The New York Times, says The Washington Post's Cillizza. "Those familiar with the plan suggest that its power would have been the element of surprise which, obviously, is now gone." Yes, luckily for the GOP "some insider, recognizing the insanity of the proposal to Ricketts — and apparently alarmed that it might soon be implemented — leaked it to The Times," says Slate's Saletan. "But this fight isn't over."
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